You’re Now Chatting With a Stranger.

Performer/author Marko Milić researches how traumatic events shape our capability to observe the world around us. He studied andragogy at the department of philosophy at the University of Belgrade with blogger/activist/performer Jelena Savic. Both were dissatisfied with the study program’s organization, so they attended several informal education programs and decided to join their practices of poetry and performing arts. After Savic first saw Milić’s piece LUMI, the two became involved in discussions on activism, feminism, engaged art, and the impact trauma has on our communication. Find their thoughts captured in the following performative talk.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

Stranger: Hey
Stranger: F or m
You: what u like me to be?

Stranger has disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

Stranger: hi
Stranger: m
You: f
Stranger: india
Stranger: you?
You: serbia

Stranger has disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

Stranger: I’m male
You: me too

Stranger has disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

Stranger: Hi
You: hi
Stranger: M
You: f
Stranger: From
You: india
Stranger: India
You: where
Stranger: Nice to meet u
Stranger: Delhi
You: u too
You: me too
Stranger: Age
You: 35
You: u
Stranger: 23

You have disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

You: hello
You: r u there

You: hey

You have disconnected.

Stranger has disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

You: gay?

Stranger has disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

You: lezbo?
Stranger: hiiiiiiiiii
You: hi
You: f
You: u
Stranger: f
Stranger: city?
Stranger: age?
You: belgrade
You: 35
You: u
Stranger: f 20
You: too young
Stranger: yup
Stranger: fine with u?
You: well too young

You have disconnected.

You’re now chatting with a stranger. Say hi…

You: im lonely

You have disconnected.

You’re now chatting with Jelena Savic. Say hi…

Marko: Hi, Jelena. How are you?

Jelena is typing

What is the role of the engaged art?

Marko: No, no, no. Tell me first: What would your activism look like if you were finnacially stable?

Jelena disconnected

Marko is typing

Talking about stability, I have a lot of appreciation for art, because usually, the case is, no one wants to sell me anything there. Okay, in time I found there was a big change in the field. Of course I am not blind to some selling off, but I’m not talking about that now. It feels good when artists share their genuine interests and curiosity with me, and they feel this could be important to me as well. And I admire artists that go beyond trendy labels, such as engaged or provocative, well done or critical.

Jelena is connected

Jelena is sending an image …

Marko: The idea in engaged art is that if you give a voice to anything suppressed, silenced or over-voiced by something louder, that voice will save us. Simple as that. Not to mention that by producing marginal voices inside of a sphere that is already marginalized, there is a risk of becoming invisible. And that is what is happening right now as we chat.

What is this image about? It reminds me of thinking about self-value on an empty stomach or while looking at an empty inbox. It’s the well-known red, but somehow not the aggressive, commercialized red.

I cannot perceive it and separate it from the criticism addressed to you when you talk about white feminism. Basically what comes back as an observation is that you are angry, as if it meant you were disqualified from expressing useful criticism. What do feminism and anger have in common in your work?

Jelena: I am more than a BIT upset because I feel invited to see, just to barely witness, as a Roma token. Engaged art and theory bear a promise of salvation in some wider sense, yes. Funny thing is, so many people, including me, are trying to save themselves most of the time, so they are left with so little. The only thing they can offer is to invite other people to think about themselves as engaged. Still, my first justified anger of subordinated subject is due to them wasting my time. The second is due to being fooled. The third is due to dire consequences of being fooled, which hurt and cost me, and my nears and dears, who are real people, not some hypothetical Roma from their engaged imagination. Engaged theories engage with reality, one way or another. They are tools. They can be samurai swords, slicing it in refined sushi, and they can also make a mess. However, being angry is also a prescribed role, as a hermeneutical tool it serves them well. Like for angry black women. They haven’t seen angry Roma women. Good Roma women are the ones who keep calm and say YES. And then die suffocating in that silence at 65 on average. The contribution of white feminists to these deaths still remains buried under the layers of their invitations and theorizations. It is probably only expected from them to call me angry for writing a few texts. They have no idea what a justifiably fucking dead angry Roma woman is. Or how many of them there are, and at which proximity. But sure thing, they would not like to hear one, this bodily angry Roma subjectivity. It hurts their sensitive sisterly ears and feminist existence. It is not nice. They are fragile. White had better get rid of fragility. Which is just the »I am scary« cherry on the whole fucking monstrosity of the system serving their needs. You see, I could scream for a very long time, but I am in a coffin, I died. I died so many times in their projects.

Jelena is sending an image

So, it does not count. Dead mouths do not speak. They cannot possibly speak. It’s nothing but the old story their mother told them about evil Roma women who will take them, evil witches, just makes them scared as hell (it’s interesting since angry Roma women do indeed have innate, to them, unfamiliar knowledge and a social mirror whose reflection would surely terrify them).

In our guest status, as subjects not »at home,« unappreciative strangers not belonging to the »authentic« academic geography and imaginarium, our speech is likely to be placed in the range of the speech of automatons, ersatz, feigning academic being, not »really« saying, not »really« making sense, not »really« knowing, subjects, without »real« epistemological significance. Even worse, through the image of Roma Sapphire (Savic 2017) the ones who want to »talk back« (Hooks 1986) might appear to the academic community, in love in its stereotype about itself, less of »canaries,« and more as destructive, dangerous Hitchcock’s birds (Hitchcock 2000).

And then they resort to nasty self-defense and will use their bloody system to keep them dead, to burn their witches, to break that mirror, these white feminists. It’s ugly. Ugly. And the power is such that they can do it with a single sentence. She is angry = she is insane. Conversation stopper. Reason. That neatly scientifically packed white death, with the smell of heavy wooden wardrobes driven all the ways across the sea, elegantly enforced upon women by gentlemen’s hands. They would use it, nevertheless. Can we transgress our self-prepared burial places, our coffins and potions, the ones that other people prepared for us? I do not know. I can’t be a naysayer because I’m alive. »I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.« (»James Baldwin Interview,« 1963) Trauma is there, nevertheless.

Marko: But it’s very hard to notice trauma when it becomes a part of your personality. I told you about this book: Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk (Van Der Kolk 2015). Reading it was like observing trauma as something vibrant, not just in a way to realize how traumatized I am, or I could say we are, but how it is so severe that we start observing it as our personality and not just that, but we observe everything from that traumatized position so the whole world looks like a threat.

Jelena: Traumas are playful, consequences of traumas can be played, is it all just pre-determined with trauma?

And now the part where we try to get better:


In the performance LUMI, the dichotomy of the role of trauma is subverted. The victim is passive, but also active. To understand it, check the perpetrator in the context of war for example, where killing is morally acceptable and celebrated, which leads to the question of subjectivity and determination by the context and braking points of the subject’s moral adaptability. How to understand victimhood, then? If it’s morally acceptable to kill the victim – it’s not a victim anymore.

The public’s penetration into the personal and the biopolitics of war brings up the danger of disavowal of responsibility. This is why we need to clarify the production of violence. Revenge, killing of innocent people as a remedy, does not transform victims into something else. Control over trauma is not established; it is a failed connection between different times, past and present.

The possibility for the weaker to use the more powerful is exciting. It is an effort that becomes a quest for survival and recovery from the power position being taken over. It is the matter of the old struggles between the powerless and powerful. But it’s not an epic story or a grand narrative of the triumph of the worse off. In the performance it is not clear what the starting point from the beginning is, masking the power setting. Allowing the possibility to be in the position of the other is a precondition for possibly overcoming trauma, but it is possible only as imaginary, as a place where the subject position of the other is a possibility (Quinn 2004). The performance is a necessary space that connects twice, perhaps. Traumas are playful. Replaying the same scenario does not help, but the possibility of questioning the roles opens the place where the strength can be found, humanity found, agency found, boundary is found, there is not just the will over the object. This blurring can bring danger in relativism, but it might be necessary. In which way I can think differently myself except as the victim, we need imagined social capital (Quinn 2010). In the play we do not know who the characters are. The relationships and roles are changing and with them, expectations. Are they connected or disconnected?

It can all be observed as a consequence of a traumatic experience. Let’s take the form of chatting, for example. It gives you a chance to be direct and honest without real contact or connection, and this produces all sorts of relationships and communications among us. You can play a role, be direct, no time wasting basically, which is quite opposite of what people generally think about social media. That is an ideal place, polyphonic. I am searching for someone to beat me up, for example. I am not even sure if I need it. And there is a place for me. You can go very far in only ten seconds. It can be used as you wish, and that is not what all of us traumatized individuals get used to. We don’t have it in our experience. To be in control. It can be used as a discharge, release, ejection or search for eternal satisfaction.

And yes, if you are not my match, fuck off. I will switch you off. So yes, there is a place where I can still feel safe. I can choose the level of my exposure. And still, this so-called polyphonic place is yet another loop of trauma. I see only what I allow myself to see. Even if I decide to only see the things I let in, I am even in greater danger.

Jelena: Ok, than be it. Interesting we struggle upon agency here. Control. Give it to me.

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People do not understand why you do things to yourself that are bad for you. It is about control. Your encounter with it is the only strategy which will get you out of it. Is escape possible? Does our experience determine us? Is there any strong sexual fantasy, object of desire without trauma?

Double blame if you deal with the identity of a victim. You do bad things to yourself and people do not understand, and you always wear the stigma, and the determination by the trauma prescribed by the people. You are about to do this in the future. Can victims be seen as not being tied to that identity in the present or future?

There are many layers in your life. Is everything just the consequence of trauma?

Marko is sending an image

Marko: You know that in the Rorschach test, a traumatized viewer cannot see teddy bears but something else, which is familiar, similar to the perception of war vets. The view of the traumatized viewer is different. They see danger everywhere, as the survivors of rape would read the art in a specific key. While I was making the drawings, I showed this one to a friend who works in a safe house for abused women. She was disgusted; she was sure two guys are ready to rape someone, but my slutty friend said, »Oh that’s a nice party.«

Trauma does not have to be inflicted in war or by rape: It is idiosyncratic, depending on individual background. But I guess one thing stays the same – it keeps the traumatized person in a

How to get out of the loop? Words and naming are important, but they are not enough. Telling stories does not necessarily work on the biopolitical level to decrease anxiety. There’s fear that the danger is still there. The body needs to learn to live in the present, not in the past.

In Body Keeps the Score, Bessel says that it is important to allow the body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, and collapse that result from trauma (Van Der Kolk 2015).

So very true. Little rebirth events. All the places I am reborn. In art. Little goddesses born. Daenerys Targaryen. Or her dragons. Or some Roma goddesses between magnificence and maleficence. Glorious moments. Super-heroines of mine in me. It’s very patriarchal in a way; this idea of the divine.

Can we go out of the margins?

»This critical feminist approach would prescribe to expect fallibility of our knowledge, simply due to the status of our subjectivity; us, being historical subjects with agency, but also determined by many global and local social structures and processes, not imagined, infallible super-heroines.« (Savic 2016, 13)

Playful. Thinking rebirth beyond divinity. And culture puts its heavy hand on your existence. In the end let the body feel it, even if it is a construct. Let it sink in. Fall into the shadow; it’s okay.


Images are created as childlike and infantile drawings. Images picture animals, elephant, deer, as well as imaginary figures like the mermaid. They are powerful and harm the human character. The animal is the dehumanized one, whose subjectivity is dominated; it is the one that is objectified and subordinated. It is a preyed body whose meat is used to feed the human body, and in a sexual act to feed the sexual appetite in a violent way. Suffering is not morally relevant when it comes from a dehumanized creature, though it is not true. In the case of the human, unawareness is not an option; suffering is surely present for sure but is disregarded (see a minority individual cynical idea of the Trolley problem (Thomson 1976) in black-and-white version in all-white philosophy field).

The abuse of trust is used to provide the narrative in which messy violence can be prevented, and also concealed. This is so the victim can be seen as a complicit, which would allow the ethical burden to be mitigated. The ideal scenario is to exercise the will over the subject, which will willfully become an object. Dehumanizing themselves and playing a certain notion of the animal degraded to machinery and a dead object; machine. It is an attempt to collide agency into absolute determination. Playing God, creationism. Overcoming nature and its wildness. Here the power of the animals is dangerous playground and men end up hurt. Childish creations show bodies in strange positions and sexual body parts, indicating trauma.

Rainy days are recognized; finally somebody made something about me. Running in the rain, nice 3-D effect?

PeRSSonAl shit & language & communication & traumatized gaze & victimhood

The role of the author and his personal life and the story. Do you need to live the experience to know it? Sexuality is physically very raw and, direct in chat, frightening and violent with specific language. The play softens the narrative, also destabilizing the idea of the brutal, animalistic, sexual activity in the gay community, the ontology of sex language is changed. The original context can be replaced, and this replacement is noticed on the level of meaning and feelings. Here it is more infantile, a little silly. It meanders, making the gay community less frightening, but still you are connected and engage in activities, looping. A bug that jumps. But it is covered up.

Language and communication

It’s horribly easy to bullshit. Sophisticated materials are dignified. I do not need »dignified« when I cannot recognize or understand it. With sophistication, you want to show off. You want to be a pro. We do not need this posing anymore. It’s a way to do almost nothing since only your small circle will understand you. We need something that communicates. But then, what is that? I try to understand but I lose motivation, there are many interesting things to do, I cannot swallow this. »I cannot swallow this.« As a therapy book, you really get the feeling that somebody is telling you something important, directly and honestly. What use of it if you speak in a foreign language? To whom are you speaking?

Commodification of art and geopolitics (semi-periphery)

Clearing the space is possible when the art is not done in a project form, where all activities have to be planned from a beginning to an end, and where the mind is set to work on this regularity. To trust your feelings and instincts, to work as it comes to you, working by yourself, cooperating with yourself, listening to yourself, makes you feel as if you were a part of something bigger, you are creative after all (even if all is constructed, it does not mean it does not exist).

In working surroundings there was sharing among the artists, but what I noticed is a deadly question you can ask an artist (or anyone) so far: What are you working on? When you ask it, your interlocutor is encouraged to connect to his or her power. »I am working on …(fill in the blank).« And you nod. You pass by the same artist next week in the printing room and you hear them give the same answer in the same tone to someone else. And you get it. We are not only speaking about our work. It is not the only topic here, it is not only our autopoesis. We are also conforming to the rules (with or without trauma) in order to confidently anticipate the outcome of our work.

We are typing …


Bell Hooks: »Talking Back« in Discourse, Vol. 8, 1986, pp.123–128.

»James Baldwin Interview.« 1963. Conversation With James Baldwin, A. New York: WGBH.

Jocey Quinn: »The Corporeality of Learning: Women Students and the Body,« in The Politics of Gender and Education,. New York 2004, pp. 174–89.

———: Learning Communities and Imagined Social Capital: Learning to Belong. Continuum Studies in Educational Research, London 2010.

Jelena Savic:»Heroines of Ours: Between Magnificence and Maleficence.«Unpublished manuscript, 2016, p.13.

Jelena Savic: »Roma Sapphires on Academia: Canaries or Hitchcock’s Birds? How Defending Academic Freedom with Reason Can Be Bad for Roma Women.« Unpublished manuscript, 2017, p. 9.

Judith Jarvis Thomson: »Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem« in The Monist 59, no. 2, 1976, pp. 204–17.

Bessel Van Der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Reprint. New York 2015.